Partnership looks to increase STEM graduates of color

A partnership of 14 Minnesota universities, colleges and three community partners is looking to increase the number of students of color graduating with degrees in STEM.

Illustration by Sarah Mai

Illustration by Sarah Mai

by Abbey Machtig

 As a partner in a program nationally known as the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, the University of Minnesota is working to increase the number of students of color who graduate with science, technology, engineering and math degrees.

The organization, which is known as the North Star STEM Alliance in Minnesota and includes 14 Minnesota universities, colleges and three community partners, is looking to double the number of students graduating with STEM degrees by 2022 as part of a five-year plan created in 2017. With funding from the National Science Foundation and 3M, the program focuses on providing research, travel and career-building opportunities to students.

“[The program] focuses not only on transfer and first-year students but all underrepresented students. We are helping to … remove barriers for those who are traditionally underserved,” said Rebecca Fabunmi, director of the North Star STEM Alliance.

The alliance aims to address the need for more diversity within the STEM workforce, said Keisha Varma, associate vice provost of the University’s Office for Equity and Diversity. When the Alliance began during the 2007-08 academic year, 153 multicultural students graduated with STEM degrees across all partner institutions.

This built upon the baseline number of 136 graduates reported in 2004 prior to the program’s creation. During the 2017-18 academic year, this number increased to 530. By 2022, the organization hopes to have 756 multicultural and underrepresented students graduate with STEM degrees, Varma said.

“If one person graduates, that’s significant; if one person finds their passion in life, that’s significant. One is a success, 10 is a success, many is a success.” Fabunmi said. “[The program] was intentionally created to serve those who are traditionally underserved and to help them to be successful.”

In order to increase the number of students who graduate with STEM degrees, the program provides a variety of opportunities for students to build career skills, especially those involving research and travel programs. This summer, students will be traveling to Costa Rica to conduct STEM research.

“I would say that out of my entire undergraduate career, studying abroad and research has been probably the most pivotal experiences I could have ever had here. Specifically with the alliance, I’ve been able to travel and connect with faculty and participate in research experiences,” said Jocelyn Ricard, a neuroscience major at the University and member of the North Star STEM Alliance.

The need to diversify the STEM workforce corresponds with the national and global need for more STEM workers, Fabunmi said. As the program works toward increasing the number of multicultural STEM graduates, she hopes to see more opportunities arise for these students, she said.

“The industry recognized they didn’t have [the workers] they needed and that there is a global intentional space and place for this. With technology, everything is starting to be related more and more,” Fabunmi said. “That takes a whole system that’s related to and interwoven with STEM, and STEM jobs have the trajectory to keep increasing.”